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Fighting through adversity: Local boxers on battling boxing shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic

 

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Paddy Gallagher

Paddy Gallagher

Paddy Gallagher with his family.

Paddy Gallagher with his family.

Paddy Gallagher

With boxing on the ropes and hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Northern Ireland fighters are suffering with the impact of COVID-19 in a familiar fashion to the rest of society.

Their careers are on hold, they have financial concerns, training is difficult due to isolation restrictions and home schooling is now on their agenda.

Sunday Life Sport spoke to three local boxers, Paddy Gallagher, Steven Ward and Steven Donnelly, to find out how they are coping with the crisis.

Paddy Gallagher: 'I don't know when I'll be fighting, so I'm just enjoying time with the kids'

Belfast welterweight Paddy Gallagher has had his fair share of knocks throughout a rollercoaster career and is confident he will bounce back yet again once the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.

Last summer in the Falls Park, Gallagher gave the performance of his career in a British title fight with Chris Jenkins, losing by a point on all the judges' cards when the bout was controversially stopped on cuts due to accidental head clashes.

Most at ringside believed the Belfast man's fists had done the damage - and even so he still deserved the decision when it was halted, having floored the Welshman.

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Paddy Gallagher with his family.

Paddy Gallagher with his family.

Paddy Gallagher with his family.

 

Gallagher, who celebrates his 30th birthday on Thursday, had hoped to return to the ring after a long absence this month before enjoying another title opportunity in the summer, but now he and wife Rachel have the challenge of educating and entertaining eight-year-old Amber and six-year-old Ronan.

"I got so bored the other night I shaved off all my hair," quipped Gallagher, who admits that playing the role of teacher is not for him.

"Most of the time is spent trying to occupy Amber and Ronan. They're good kids, but they can be a bit mental at times.

"The school, St Teresa's, have been brilliant. They have given them plenty of work - it's just a pity I haven't got the patience to teach them. I can fight, but I can't teach.

"So, the teaching is done by Rachel. She's great with them and organising things in the house - as long as she has her gin she'll be alright!

"We try to make sure that there's a good balance in the house for the kids between the work they have to do and making sure they have fun. So, we've been showing them how to make buns and some basic cooking. I'm actually pretty good when it comes to doing a Sunday roast or pies and Rachel is just good at everything else."

Gallagher admits that he has been frustrated with the lack of fights following his fine performance against Jenkins, whose team at the time said they would welcome a return clash but then took a different path and the British Boxing Board of Control did not back his case for an immediate rematch.

"Nothing came up for me, even though my management appealed the decision. I thought I deserved a rematch right away because I battered the guy, but time just went on and there was no sign of a fight," added Gallagher.

"Last week I was actually meant to go to France for a music festival in the Alps for Rachel's 30th birthday, but of course that had to be cancelled and now I don't know when I'll be fighting, so I'm just enjoying time with the kids and forgetting about boxing for a while.

"Thankfully since last year I haven't just been relying on boxing for a living because I got a job with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association to promote boxing in Belfast.

"I know Carl Frampton has made the point about schools in Northern Ireland having boxing as an option for PE and we have managed to do some programmes in some Belfast schools and it has gone down very well. Some parents messaged me about how it has helped their kids - how they are more confident."

Steven Donnelly: 'Roberto Duran was a bit of a wild man and he still won world titles... I can take inspiration from him'

Steven Donnelly is not about to let the coronavirus stand in the way of him making a big impact in 2020 - and he says girlfriend Sarah Louise McClelland will be the secret to his success.

The Ballymena man has had personal issues in the past, including losing his driving licence a couple of years ago, but insists that Sarah Louise will make sure he remains on track during this frustrating period.

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Steven Donnelly

Steven Donnelly

Steven Donnelly

 

Donnelly was in the middle of preparing for the biggest fight of his career next month in Glasgow against fellow unbeaten light-middleweight Troy Williamson when Covid-19 intervened.

The 31-year-old, who won the Ultimate Boxer tournament last year, is adamant he will be in shape when the call comes to re-enter camp for the Williamson bout.

"Sarah Louise has spent two years driving me back and forth to training. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her," said Donnelly.

"Sarah Louise is a professional personal trainer, so she knows how dedicated I have to be. We both did our fitness instructor qualifications and she is able to continue working with some of her clients through the Zoom app.

"She also makes sure that I don't go off the rails. Dear knows where I would be without her - probably driving around Ballymena like a mad man. Her dedication to my career has been incredible and I've wised up myself too. After winning the Ultimate Boxer I invested in proper gym equipment, so I have everything there for us both to carry on training."

While sticking to the social distancing rules, Donnelly is still making sure he maintains a high level of fitness.

"I'm going out running every other morning, so I'll do 15km or a 10km run. Then on the other days I make sure I get in my strength and conditioning with my coach Shane Glennon," he said.

"I can always go into the gym and hit the bags or do some shadow boxing as well. I'm always active. I need to be like that because it would be very easy to pile on the weight.

"I'm also fortunate that the fight with Williamson is still there - it's the one I'll be having as soon as this crisis is over and we get back to boxing. I know some guys will be starting their camp feeling heavy, but I won't let that happen to me.

"At times it can be hard because it's a waiting game, but I've got plenty of books and Sarah Louise and I have been watching a lot of Netflix. I've got a few boxing autobiographies which I'm enjoying, like the great Roberto Duran's book. He was a bit of a wild man and still won world titles - I can take inspiration from Duran!"

Steven Ward: 'I know that opportunities will come, it's just a matter of staying patient and fit'

Former WBO European light-heavyweight champion Steven Ward was preparing for his return to the ring when Covid-19 shut down all sport - and he freely admits that the next couple of months are going to be very challenging.

A weight-drained Ward lost to underdog Ricards Bolotniks in December, leading him to realise that he had to make the move up to cruiserweight. A return to the ring this month had been pencilled in, but with that cancelled and no fight on the horizon, Ward is having to be creative when it comes to training.

"It's been very hard… just the whole uncertainty that everyone is living with now. We don't know for how long this will last and obviously there is a financial implication. Boxers are not like Premier League footballers - we don't get paid a fortune and most live fight by fight," said Ward, who turns 30 in a fortnight.

"I'm lucky that I have a few quid saved from my last fight and my sponsors LM Services and the Parr Group have been very good because the money they give me keeps me ticking over.

"Training isn't easy because I don't have a garage - I don't even have a bag to hit - so I'm running every day and my strength and conditioning guy Gareth Edgar has an app that he sends sessions on, so I do that three and four times a week. I managed to get some kettle bells and dumbbells from my old amateur club Monkstown."

Ward says he is determined to turn the negative situation into a positive by focusing on the fundamentals.

"I go out into the back garden and shadow box. I work on footwork and visualise situations that I will need to handle when I'm in a fight - like in the last one when I got hurt and didn't hold. I just fought back and that was a mistake because it left me open," added Ward, who is also playing his role alongside wife Cathy in helping out with their three children, Kacy (15), Noah (four) and Isla (six months).

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Noah is getting used to home schooling

Noah is getting used to home schooling

Noah is getting used to home schooling

 

"The stuff I've been doing reminds me of going on trips with the Ireland team as an amateur when you would be up at six o'clock and out in a field, doing rotation and movement, reaction times with a tennis ball… working on simple fundamentals that are very important.

"I did think about doing some sparring with Cathy, but these Taughmonagh women are different, so I passed on that!"

Ward also revealed that he has used the extra family time to help educate young Noah on the value of money.

"I took Noah for his first run the other day (above) and he did very well. He would do even better if he didn't talk so much, but he's good craic. When it comes to money, we'll give him a 50p, a couple of 20ps and a couple of 10ps and he has to decide what food he buys from us - like chocolate bars or fruit. So, when he realises he can get five pieces of fruit for 50p rather than one chocolate bar, he goes for the fruit, so it's a win-win situation and when all the money is gone there's no question about him eating all his dinner!

"We all just have to keep going through this time and I know that opportunities will come for me. It's just a matter of being patient and staying as fit as possible."

Belfast Telegraph